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A Push for more climate action

Source: The Hindu

International Climate Change Litigation Reaches a Milestone

ITLOS Delivers Advisory Opinion on Obligations of States Regarding Climate Change Mitigation

Nine small island states have won a historic climate change case at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), which ruled that all signatories to a United Nations treaty on marine activities must do more to protect the world’s oceans from climate change.

The tribunal found (PDF) that signatories to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea’s responsibilities to prevent marine pollution extend to greenhouse gas emissions, which harm oceans by altering the earth’s atmosphere.

The island states had asked the court to clarify what was considered marine pollution under the convention, amid rising oceans, soaring ocean temperatures and ocean acidification caused by fossil fuels and other greenhouse gas emissions.

COSIS and the ITLOS Request

  • COSIS is a group of small island states established in 2021 to address climate change and international law.

  • They requested the ITLOS to clarify the specific obligations of parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) regarding climate change mitigation.

Key Findings of the ITLOS Opinion

  • ITLOS affirmed that UNCLOS parties have a legal obligation to take all necessary measures to reduce and control marine pollution caused by anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

  • The tribunal clarified that carbon dioxide released into the marine environment qualifies as a pollutant under UNCLOS.

  • The Opinion emphasizes the importance of using the best available science and following international agreements like the Paris Agreement to guide mitigation efforts.

  • The goal of these measures should be to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

Understanding the Legal Importance

  • The Opinion strengthens the legal basis for addressing climate change as a global issue, moving beyond bilateral agreements.

  • It establishes a due diligence obligation for states, requiring them to take serious action based on scientific evidence.

  • However, the Opinion acknowledges limitations. It doesn't specify the exact level of mitigation required from each state.

Looking Ahead

  • While not legally binding, the ITLOS Opinion carries significant weight as an authoritative judicial interpretation.

  • The focus now shifts to determining the specific actions each state must take to fulfill its obligations.

  • The example of the Netherlands Supreme Court decision in the Urgenda Foundation case highlights the potential for courts to use the Opinion to set stricter national emission reduction targets.

ITLOS and COSIS in Brief

  • The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) is an intergovernmental organization that settles legal disputes arising from the UNCLOS.

  • The Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law (COSIS) advocates for the rights and interests of small island nations threatened by climate change.

COSIS Members

The Prime Ministers of Antigua and Barbuda and Tuvalu signed the Agreement for the Establishment of the Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law (COSIS) on the eve of COP26. The Republic of Palau acceded to the Agreement in November 2021, Niue in September 2022, Vanuatu in December 2022, St. Lucia in December 2022, St. Vincent and the Grenadines in June 2023, and St. Kitts and Nevis in June 2023. Membership is open to any member of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).

Cosis Members

Members of COSIS

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